If you're a fan of high-scoring offenses, the Rose Bowl this year may not be the game for you. This game is going to be about strength up front on defense. As such, most of the top NFL Draft prospects are front seven players on both sides of the ball.
When Stanford has the football:
Stanford's offense is built around power running, and that starts up front with left guard David Yankey. The junior likes to get out on pulls and looks good moving laterally to open up holes on the right side. In a guard class that is loaded at the top, Yankey will have a difficult decision to make after the game. Senior right guard Kevin Danser has looked good at times this season and is a late Day 3 type of prospect.
Like Stepfan Taylor before him, Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney is a straight-forward power back. He's not going to dazzle anyone with moves or make a lot of people miss in the open field. He gets the ball, finds a hole and hits it. After siting out last season to try baseball, Gaffney rushed for 1,618 yards and 20 touchdowns this season.
If any team is built to match up against Stanford's power offense, it's Michigan State. Well, it was Michigan State before senior middle linebacker Max Bullough was suspended for the game. The loss of Bullough, a possible top 100 pick, is big. That will force outside linebacker Denicos Allen to play more disciplined. Allen is at his best when he can dart into the backfield. But with Bullough not there to clean up any messes, Allen may have to stay home more. Michigan State's safeties – Kurtis Drummond and Isaiah Lewis – may be forced to play closer to the line of scrimmage as well. Lewis is a Day 3 prospect while Drummond is likely to go back to school for his senior season.
The best single matchup of the day is going to be Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery against Michigan State star cornerback Darqueze Dennard. Montgomery is Stanford's best speed option on the outside, but Dennard can push him around in man coverage at the line. Dennard has crept into the first round because of his physical playing style.
A name to keep in mind for 2015 is Spartans junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun. Had he come out this year, there would be a discussion about him being the second-best 4-3 defensive end in the draft this year.
When Michigan State has the football:
In regard to skill position players, Michigan State is light on draftable players. Wide receiver Bennie Fowler might get a camp invite, but that may be about it. Michigan State has a pair of offensive linemen that should get a shot as well. Right tackle Fou Fonoti is a two-year starter who sat out most of last season with a broken foot. He's a functional tackle, but most consider him a guard in the NFL.
The players to watch here are Stanford's defense, namely the front seven. Middle linebacker Shayne Skov has had a bounce back season and resurrected his draft stock. Teams are going to fall in love with the size and versatility of outside linebacker Trent Murphy. While he's more of a straight line pass rusher as a linebacker, he's capable of putting his hand in the ground and playing traditional defensive end. Murphy comes into the game with 21.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. Defensive end Josh Mauro is a late-round prospect, and Henry Anderson opposite him is a name to remember for 2015.
Safety Ed Reynolds is Stanford's best draft-eligible defensive back. While he'll sometimes whiff on a tackle, Reynolds can really hit receivers going deep.